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The do’s and don’ts of heart health

February is American Heart Month, which is a great reminder for all of us, even if you consider yourself to be fairly healthy individual, that it’s important to pay extra attention to your heart. Every 40 seconds, a person in the United States has a heart attack and heart disease accounts for 1 in 4 deaths each year.1 Fortunately, there are ways to reduce your chances of experiencing a heart-related complication. Below are some helpful and harmful habits that may affect your heart health. 


- Get a check-up 

A great first step to improving your heart health is knowing its current condition. If you go in for routine physicals, you likely get your blood pressure taken each time and have a general idea of where you stand. But if you haven’t seen the doc in a while, make an appointment and ask about your heart by having your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels checked. 

- Eat heart-healthy foods
In recent years, clashing opinions of what comprises a “healthy diet” has left consumers confused about what we should and shouldn’t be eating. It is best to consult your doctor and do your own research, but foods generally recommended for a heart healthy diet are relatively low in saturated and trans fat, salt and sugar and have higher levels of healthy fat, fiber and nutrients. So next time you’re at the grocery store, pick up a few of these items:  leafy greens, nuts, avocados, fish, fruits, vegetables, and lean meats such as skinless chicken, turkey or pork chops.2 

- Manage your stress
The relation between stress and the heart is still being studied, but research does show that frequent increases in stress hormones can affect risk factors related to heart disease. Your body can react to stress in different ways, including increased blood pressure and hypertension or you may respond by adopting poor eating and exercise habits. To reduce the results of stress on your body, take steps to find what soothes you. This will be different for everyone, but you can try taking deep breaths, exercising, yoga, talking to a trusted family member or friend, playing with a pet, or delegating tasks at work and home to lighten your load.


- Smoke
While smoking among Americans did decline by 5.4 percent between 2005 and 2016, 38 million people still smoke every, or most days.3 Smoking damages your arteries, putting you at much greater risk for a heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular disease. To make matters worse, cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death in the United States and of those deaths, 1 in 5 are attributed to smoking.4 So if you don’t smoke, don’t start; and if you do smoke, consider seeking resources to help you quit. 

- Sit for extended periods of time
You’ve heard it before: - “Sitting is the new smoking.” And as we know, smoking is definitely not good for your heart. But where does this phrase come from? Studies have shown that people who sit for more than 8 hours per day on a regular basis without exercising have a risk of death comparable to those who smoke or suffer from obesity. Living a sedentary lifestyle can lead to a number of health problems including increased blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels, all of which affect our heart. To combat this issue, make sure that you are getting ample exercise, preferably 60-75 minutes, to counteract the results of extended sitting periods. Also, consider using a standing desk, having walking meetings, taking breaks to move around during the day or even mounting your desk above a treadmill if possible.5 

It’s never too early to start developing (or avoiding) these habits. If you know your heart health could improve but you’re unsure where to start, make sure you’re checking in with your doctor, eating a balanced diet and finding ways to stay active. Your heart will love you for it! 

“Heart Disease Fact Sheet”. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. December, 2016. 
“Tips for a Heart Healthy Diet”. Northwestern Medicine.
“Smoking is down, but almost 38 million American adults still smoke.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2018.
“Heart Health and Smoking”. U.S Food and Drug Administration. 2018.
“What are the risks of sitting too much”. Mayo Clinic. May, 2018.

Posted on February 12, 2019 in Consumer Health & Wellbeing Wellness

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